Peter is a friend to Norwich panto stars
When the stars deliver a bumper package of festive fun at the Theatre Royal's Cinderella pantomime in Norwich this year, Canon Peter Nokes will take a particular interest. Sandie Shirley reports.
The man who took on the role of chaplain at the Norwich theatre when he was appointed to the city-centre church of St Peter Mancroft, is on hand for staff and visiting production companies throughout the year.
He says: "Actors are often far from home, friends and family and they are always very welcoming when I call in to say hello. It is a great privilege and joy to be chaplain; the theatre is full of wonderfully gracious, perceptive, generous people from whom I have learned an enormous amount.
"As with a lot of chaplaincy work, it is a matter of finding a balance of being available without being obtrusive. One strives to be alongside people in their own contexts and situations rather than preaching at them."
As a young priest and sixth form college chaplain, he learnt the lesson well when he was asked to sit in the room labelled 'chaplain's office' and few people visited. "It was only when I began teaching sociology to 'A' level groups that I found myself used much more by the students because I was available to them where they were."
The pantomime is the longest-running annual production and is produced by the theatre. The yearly Pantomime Service at St Peter's at 11am on Christmas Eve morning helps mark, with gratitude, the contribution the theatre makes to city and county life. "It is all too easy to take for granted the quality of our theatre which has had links with St Peter's since the mid-19th century," says Canon Nokes.
Staff and the pantomime cast take part in the light-hearted service which will include an address by the Bishop of Norwich, this year. "For many the annual pantomime is a significant event at Christmas so it is good that the core message of Christmas is celebrated with the theatre at these fun services," says Canon Nokes.
"I consider one of the most important things we do as a city church is to pray daily for our theatre and all the other city institutions."
A few years ago prayer was needed when the controversial production 'Jerry Springer the Opera' was shown at the theatre and the cast and chaplains were jeered during the ensuing demonstrations. "There was protest from several Christians who mistakenly, in my view, thought the production was blasphemous. The next morning I celebrated Holy Communion and was delighted to see in the congregation those who had played Jesus and Mary! The actors were there, quietly expressing their faith. People often forget that actors play parts which more often than not do not express their own lives or views!"
Canon Nokes first heard the gospel at boarding school during some stirring preaching and "was brought to faith by people whose lives were manifestly of God."
He adds: "I think all too often religious people can get too caught up in words and formulae. Words alone can never convey the love and grace of God which was made known to us in Jesus Christ."
To illustrate the point, he recalls a former Bishop confirming some young adults - including those with a mental age of three or four - at the service in a psychiatric hospital.
"Using very few words, he laid hands on their heads and prayed for the Holy Spirit to be with them and then he gave each of them a long hug and an episcopal smile."
Pictured above is Canon Peter Nokes outside Norwich’s Theatre Royal. Picture by David White.